Saturday, October 17, 2009

A response to comments

First a mea culpa- I was posting on another blog about Gay Marriage and rather than try and cram my thought into a response section I referenced my post here, so if that is why you’re here I’m flattered. But my wife told me that I really should have linked directly to the post, not just my blog. Sorry guys my bad. It is right here.

Russ- It sounds to me like you are understanding point perfectly. When my understanding of a commandment conflicts with my understanding of Justice, Justice wins. But this is really a fairly simplistic way to explain it. It isn’t so much that I would expect my understanding of a Justice to allow me to just ignore commandments. As I see it what really happens is that I use my understanding of Justice to help me understand how the commandment is intended to be applied. Let me use an example that I’ve used in church before. There are several scriptures that say things along the lines of “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” I’m not sure that that is an exact quote, but something along those lines. When my wife was working at a school she was given a copy of a book called “No Greater Joy.” Basically, it advocated, based on the scripture above, and others, beating your children (it even gave suggestions as to which kinds of sticks worked best.) I would suspect that the authors of this book would say that beating children doesn’t violate the attributes of God. Because if God is Just and he commands you to beat your children then beating your children is Just. Beating children in my mind violates several of the attributes of God (Justice, Compassion, Teaching, etc.) Therefore the commandment is not to be interpreted literally, what it means is teach your children discipline, God’s attributes let me know that this is to be done in the best way we know how. Maybe back in the day when the Old Testament was being written the best way that anyone new to teach discipline was beating, so when whoever wrote those scriptures wrote them he was directing the people of his time to follow what God wanted (discipline) in the best way he knew how (beating.) But now we know that beating isn’t the most effective way to teach discipline so we teach it in other ways. What it is that “lets” us interpret the commandments in this way (rather then following them literally as the authors of the book suggest) is that, as Joseph Smith taught in Lectures on Faith, we first have a correct understanding of the attributes of God.

The mental construct of a conflict that I used in my original post was to help illustrate my point. Of course if we see a problem we should seek study further, and to refine our understanding of both the attributes of God and his commandments. If we pursue a path based on developing and understand of Gods attributes, then we can take that and develop an understanding of the commandments that he has given. By developing a better understanding of his attributes we develop a better understanding of his commandments. But if we pursue a path that that put obedience to the commandments first, without checking them against the attributes, in the hope that by obeying the commandments we’ll then understand the attributes there is no check – if we get a commandment wrong there is nothing to stop us from living it anyway.

I know that because I am human I make mistakes and there will be times, as you say, when I misunderstand the attributes and so end up living a commandment in a way that God did not intend. You are right I err on the side of assuming that my understanding of Justice is correct. Because we can’t go through life without making mistakes I think that it is just as important to choose the types of mistakes we’re going to make. Would I rather fail at obedience or justice, would I rather be too much mercy or not enough?


I think you are making my point exactly. Let us run thought the step by step logic using the Spanish inquisition as our example. If I have what I’m calling a conservative approach, I read the scriptures and find a record of God telling people to destroy those not of the faith. Now I know that God is Just so I tell my self, it is Just of me to destroy people not of the faith, and off I run to chop off heads, or burn Jews or whatever. But if instead I understand that God is Just and I read those same scriptures, I can then know that they do not give me permission to run around chopping off heads. It is our understanding of the attributes of God that helps keep us from over generalizing. Putting the attributes in the prime position doesn’t invalidate the commandments, it helps us to understand and apply them correctly. Like you said it is not the commandment that is wrong it is the application.


Danielle said...

I always interpreted "spare the rod, spoil the child" as Do spare then rod and spoil the child. Maybe that is why my kids are a little on the wild side.
I've never found obedience to the commandments unclear or unjust- difficult and in conflict with the natural man, but not something I've had to check against my own sense of justice (which is quite skewed). Then again, I've never been asked to kill someone or pick up my newly established home in Nauvoo and treck across frozen plains pulling a handcart.
Paul spoke about following God in complete darkness, with no one and not a scrap of sense to back it up - sort of a religious existentialism. I believe the blessings we can gain after these leaps of faith can be an increase in our understanding of God's attributes. When we do something or go through something, we have more vision.

I am quite impressed with myself and my little comment. Maybe you should do a post on pride.

Danielle said...

P.S. I really agree with you on most of this - except the living a commandment and getting in wrong part. If we're talking about the basic ten, I think most people that are trying are probably getting it close to right. I just had to make my cool comment with "religious existentialism" in it.

Anonymous said...

I have been recently interpreting "spare the rod, spoil the child" as sparing the iron rod-the word of God...along the lines of teaching them correct principles and they will govern themselves, kind of thing.

Chris,I thought I had read you sounded to me like you were questioning the commandments, but you were questioning the application. That really changes things for me and helps me understand a few people I know. If I look at them from the questioning the application side, it's much easier to have a discussion. It's kinda the Moroni-Pahoran thing. Recognizing the person agrees with the underlying principles.

Chris said...

Yes I think you've got it. I'm not questioning the commandments as such (i.e. I’m not saying that they’re bad or wrong.) But, if you are trying to correct someone who is misapplying the commandments, that is exactly how it would appear.

Thought experiment: you are in a culture were everyone accepts that the Bible tells you to beat your children. Everyone believes that that is the commandment: beat your children. And someone decides to “question” that commandment, and say the “no in-fact the commandment doesn’t mean that it- means discipline them.” To the “hardliners” it looks and sounds like you are advocating eliminating the command (you’re advocating they stop beating their children), because they lack any underlying foundation (i.e. a correct understanding of the attributes of God) that would allow them to interpret that commandment in any other way.

Danielle: I agree with you about following the Lord without a full understanding, but what does it mean to follow the Lord? In order to truly understand what I’m saying you need to fully grasp the idea of our own imperfection. We need to understand that what we think is a commandment my not in-fact be a commandment at all, it may only be our misunderstanding or misapplication of a commandment. (The same is true of the attributes of God, what we think of as Justice may in-fact only be our misunderstanding of Justice.) The problem is that the “Hardliners” reject (or don’t even consider) that what they call a commandment could in-fact just be their own interpretation, so they don’t bother to check against anything. Because they assume they know the truth they never stop to think if they are right. They see no difference between “Do I understand this correctly?” and “Is this commandment correct?” A correct understanding of the attributes is one of the ways to check ourselves so we don’t begin to mistake our (or anyone else’s) interpretation of the commandments, for the commandments themselves.

The issue becomes clearer when you are tying to understand how the commandments interact with each other. For example we are commanded “thou shalt not kill” but what about war? By developing a correct understanding of the attributes of God it gives a basis on which to “make exceptions.” Of course they wouldn’t really be exceptions, what they would be is correct application. But if we are too caught up in the idea of not make exceptions we may end up miss-applying the commandment – because advocating what is obviously a better understanding of a commandment in hindsight can look exactly like advocating eliminating the commandments at the time.

To see this principle in action I would recommend reading the arguments in favor of segregation in the 50’s. Many of them where based on the idea of maintaining traditional values, maintaining a traditional way of life, maintain law and order, and preventing harmful influence in society.

Danielle said...

I really do agree basically. I've met some who foist off their interpretation of gospel living/commandment following as supreme law without considering other angles. It is wearing to be around that. I have been like that and still am in many ways (but always trying to lighten up). In my comments, I was probably thinking of people who pick and choose which commandments they'll follow instead of studying why and how they should follow them.